The Northern Territory News reports that veteran euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke faces a five-day hearing before the Medical Board starting today. Nitschke’s arguments will include:
Mr Nitschke says suicide is a lawful activity and the appeal was a question of whether rational adults should have access to information to help them proceed.
I wrote quite a long article a couple of weeks ago about euthanasia and Phil Nitschke. Someone on that thread remarked that Nitschke gave them the creeps.
Other people have said similar things to me in the past. I don’t really understand why. Certainly Nitschke is an intense, determined and even obsessive personality. But the same would almost certainly be true of just about any crusader for any cause. You need to have those qualities to maintain focus on such a difficult issue, involving intense emotions and huge end of life questions, over such a long period of time.
As I made clear in my previous article, I don’t agree with every single aspect of Phil Nitschke’s position on euthanasia. I certainly don’t agree that it should be lawful for any person, doctor or otherwise, to assist a person to commit suicide who has neither a terminal illness nor a chronic, incurable and painful medical condition. However, it needs to be kept in mind that Nitschke did not assist Nigel Brayley to commit suicide. He merely provided information about euthanasia options. It still raises difficult ethical issues about whether a doctor owes a duty of care to satisfy himself about a person’s state of mind before providing such information, and no doubt that is the principal issue that the Medical Board will be determining.
In that respect the Medical Board’s decision and reasoning will be very important for the future of euthanasia in this country. If the Board decides that a doctor does have a duty of care to satisfy himself about the state of mind of any euthanasia enquirer, that would effectively make it impossible for any one of us to access reliable medical information about euthanasia options without submitting ourselves to an invasive, distressing and deeply offensive full psychological assessment. In my view everyone (unless clearly suffering a significant mental illness) should have a right to such information, and doctors should have no right to suppress it.
With people today living longer and longer, these ethical dilemmas surrounding end of life decisions will inevitably become more frequent and more acute. We can’t keep fobbing them off and just leaving it to doctors’ disciplinary bodies to decide. Parliaments need to develop some intestinal fortitude, stop worrying about the reactions of a small minority of religious zealots, and enact appropriate legislation along the lines of the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.
I regard Phil Nitschke as a great man and a modern day hero, and I wish him every success in his joust with the Medical Board.